During Covid, Christians were quick to obey the government, even when the government stepped beyond its God-appointed limits. Where was our courage? What do the Scriptures say about this? And what can we learn from courageous believers who have gone before us?
Christians are called to be salt and light wherever God puts us. In the post-Christian West, our challenge is to fulfil this calling in a culture that is quickly drifting away from its Christian moorings.
In recent articles, we have considered how the church is going in the face of this enormous challenge. When confronted by conscience issues and society’s definition of compassion during Covid, Christians could have shown much better leadership.
But how did we do when it came to courage?
Fear has been the prevailing spirit of the last two years. As followers of Jesus, we’ve had the opportunity to walk in the opposite spirit.
This doesn’t mean acting recklessly. When I speak of courage, I don’t so much mean courage in the face of the virus — because your risk might be very different to mine. I’m talking about the courage to stand up for what we know is true and right.
A Cure Worse Than the Disease
We’ve now entered a very interesting stage in Western history when the instinct is to look for government help in most aspects of life. This has been building for some time, but Covid really brought it to the surface.
Of course, there’s a place for governments to protect the community when there is a serious threat to public health. But our leaders skipped straight from doing nothing to mandating everything. Rarely were we given the opportunity to exercise common sense and voluntary care for each other.
We also showed how willing we are to live under indefinite emergency powers. Still today, our country — including every state and territory — is under a state of emergency, even though all of our leaders’ goals have been achieved!
You Can’t Please a Divided World
Instead of challenging the overreach and the fear, many Christians were quick to spiritualise it, saying, “We’ve got to lead by example. The world is watching”.
But which world was watching? Our world is split in two, on Covid and many other things.
If we live to please unbelievers who are very much committed to Covid panic, there are millions of other unbelievers, who’ve been suffering and marching in protests, who will see our Christian faith as cowardly and useless.
If we aim to please one half of a divided world we will inevitably upset the other half. The point is this: Jesus didn’t save us and send us into the world to curate our public image. He called us to be salt and light and a city on a hill (Matthew 5:13-16) — no matter what a divided world thinks.
A Place for Peaceful Resistance
Some of our culture’s greatest heroes knew this. Think of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church. The protesters at Tiananmen Square. Believers behind the Iron Curtain before the fall of Communism.
With the passing of time, we elevate these people and write biographies about them. But they were divisive characters. They practiced peaceful resistance. A lot of people hated them at the time — in some cases, the majority of Christians wrote them off as rabble rousers. But we thank God for them today.
The ink is not yet dry on the Covid story. Those with their bank accounts frozen in Canada, anti-mandate Americans being treated like domestic terrorists, Victorians who were subjected to beatings, tear gas and rubber bullets — they may yet be the heroes of the story. Maybe our great grandchildren will read about them in their public school textbooks.
Jesus Set Limits on Government
In Romans 13, God says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” That’s the rule. But there is an exception. God has appointed these rulers, we read, not as “a terror to good conduct, but to bad”. What if governments cross that line between good and bad? We can debate where that line is crossed — but it can be crossed.
Jesus said it himself: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus set a limit on the authority of earthly government. You and I owe the government our obedience on most things. But if they demand from us what rightly belongs to God — our bodies, our conscience, our worship — we can and must resist.
If that was true under a tyrant like Caesar, how much more so in representative democracies? In the West, God has ordained governments “of, for and by the people”. It would be wrong for us to sit idly by if our elected leaders oppressed or inflicted suffering on others.
Courage Isn’t Selfish
Standing up isn’t selfish. Like the heroes we celebrate, it might cost us our reputation in the short term. But we do it to protect others from injustice. We do it for those who can’t defend themselves. We do it for the rights and freedoms of everyone — even those who are against us.
Please don’t hear me issuing some kind of call to arms. But for some of the challenges that may lie ahead beyond Covid, God’s church does have to start thinking about peaceful resistance. If Australia ever has an underground church, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing.
By God’s mercy, it will never come to that. But in every age, we need courage — and the resolve to obey our Lord whether it has mainstream approval or not.
Originally published at the Daily Declaration.